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What Is The Role Of A Workplace After A Tragedy?

Source | FastCompany : By Stephanie Vozza

It’s a safe bet that Monday-morning watercooler talk included shock and disbelief over the tragedy that took place in the Orlando nightclub Pulse. Unfortunately the topic isn’t new, as shootings have become more common. And while employees will talk, when should workplace leadership enter the conversation?

“Leaders need to let their teams and managers know it’s okay if people want to talk about it,” says Midge Seltzer, president of the HR consulting firm Engage PEO. “They will anyway; it’s part of the grieving process. Joining the conversation will help you control it, and make it more productive.”

Formal conversations can depend on your location, says Richard Chaifetz, neuropsychologist and CEO of the employee assistance program provider ComPsych. “If you’re in close proximity to the tragedy, there’s a chance it impacted your employees, their relatives, friends, and neighbors,” he says. “The closer you are to the core of what happened, the more obvious it would be that you need to address it.”

Informal discussions, however, should be happening everywhere, says Seltzer. “Part of the problem is that we’re getting desensitized,” she says. “Take advantage of a Monday-morning huddle to bring up the topic and gauge employee concerns. Someone may be new to the workplace or a working environment.”

How To Start

Starting a conversation helps leaders tap into the feelings of employees. “Don’t assume that if they’re not saying anything, they might not be having fears,” says Steven Cates, human resources and labor law professor at Kaplan University.

The type of information you share will depend on the relevancy to the people in your organization. Small organizations, for example, can hold brown bag luncheons to discuss what happened and what the company is doing to keep employees safe, while large companies or those with multiple sites might record a video message from a senior member of leadership, he says.

“You want to reconfirm the company’s concern as it relates to protecting employees in what is now a dangerous global environment so employees can focus,” says Cates. “You can also hold voluntary sessions that give employees an opportunity to express concerns. This will allow you to understand the magnitude of their fears so you can offer a solid, strategic action plan.”


Tragedies also give leaders a chance to educate (or re-educate) employees about recognizing and reporting suspicious activity, says Chaifetz. “When you look back at all attacks, there was always something in hindsight that caused someone to scratch their head,” he says. “Very rarely do they look back and say, ‘I can’t believe this person did this.’ There has to be process in place for people to report that kind of behavior. Employees are the first line; they see what management doesn’t see.”

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